Thursday, August 09, 2007

Immigration bill: first impressions

Last year, the government conducted a review of the Immigration Act, with the aim of eroding independent oversight of immigration decisions streamlining administration. On Tuesday, the resulting Immigration Bill was introduced to the House. The bill does contain a number of positive features, most importantly the full incorporation of the non-refoulement provisions of the Convention Against Torture and of Articles 6 and 7 of the ICCPR into New Zealand law. Against that, the bill gives the Department of Immigration pretty much everything it wanted. Decisionmaking power is shifted into the hands of faceless officials, appeal rights are reduced, and bureaucratic hurdles are imposed to prevent challenges. The troublesome Refugee Status Appeals Authority, regarded as one of the best decisionmaking bodies in the world in its area, will be disestablished and its jurisdiction transferred to a new single Immigration and Protection Tribunal. Powers of detention are massively increased, and judicial oversight reduced. Oh, and New Zealand citizens will now be biometrically scanned at the border.

The worst feature however is the provisions for the use of classified information. The use of secret "evidence" is one of the most egregious features of the Ahmed Zaoui case, and contrary to the headlines, its use will become routine. Rather than being limited only to those subject to a security risk certificate, it can be used in any immigration decision, and the information can come from any government agency - including Immigration. Such "evidence" will not need to be shared with a potential migrant, even if a judge says that the secrecy is unwarranted, and the legislation seems guaranteed to make this gross violation of natural justice a regular feature of our immigration system, in the process making the department even less accountable than it is now.

Again, I'm left wondering why a Labour government, which supposedly has a commitment to justice, fairness and human rights, is promoting such vile legislation. And again, I'm wondering what the point of struggling to elect them is if they're simply going to do something like this. This bill makes things crystal clear: Labour needs a strong left-wing coalition partner to act as their moral compass - and without such a coalition partner, they're not worth having at all.